Top Things to Do with Kids in Madison, Wisconsin
Henry Vilas Zoo
With a herpetarium, tropical rainforest aviary and children's zoo, plus giraffe and primate houses, a carousel and train, a trip to the (free!) zoo is always interesting and entertaining. Arctic Passage houses polar bears and seals. vilaszoo.org
Governor Nelson State Park
This spacious park on the northwestern shore of Lake Mendota features a sand beach, boat launch, playground equipment and more than 8 miles of trails, including one that circles Native American effigy mounds. In the winter, the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Botanical gardens don't automatically equate with a fun kid outing. But Olbrich does a nice job mixing in enough interesting elements—such as a glittering Thai pavilion and a conservatory filled with free-flying birds—to keep young ones interested. And everyone loves the Holiday Express, a Christmastime flower and model train show.
National Mustard Museum
You'll find more than 5,600 types of international mustards on display, plus a sampling area, interactive learning kiosks and the MustardPiece Theatre at this quirky museum. Best time to visit: for the National Mustard Day festival on the first Saturday in August.
Rent kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and pedal boats at three locations around Madison. Also, look for special events such as lakeshore yoga, full moon paddles and ice cream boat floats.
State Street links the Capitol with the University of Wisconsin campus. Seven blocks long, it's filled with one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops. Stroll down the street during summer and you might stumble upon a spray-paint artist creating an intricate piece or a sax player wailing away. Even when the weather turns chilly, State Street keeps hopping.
Older kids may enjoy one of the free tours at the State Capitol, while younger ones will be happy to walk around and peek at the Senate and Assembly chambers and impressive dome. In summer, head for the sixth-floor observation deck, which affords prime views of Madison.
Set on 500 acres of woods about 10 minutes north of Madison, this environmental center will keep your family entertained with a small exhibit of native animals, an 80-foot-tall observation tower, nature trails, a sawmill exhibit, logging museum and more.
Madison Children's Museum
Sitting near Capitol Square, the Children's Museum offers nearly a dozen exhibits aim at kids of varying ages, like Wildernest, a global village play space for kids 5 and under, and Rooftop Ramble, a section of the building's rooftop with chickens, a Crow's Nest and more. The newest space is Wonderground, a 10,000-square-foot outdoor play area created with mostly upcycled materials.